Mechanically separated meat: EFSA advises on public health risks and detection methods

Microbiological and chemical hazards associated with mechanically separated meat derived from poultry and swine are similar to those related to non-mechanically separated meat (fresh meat, minced meat or meat preparations). However, the risk of microbial growth increases with the use of high pressure production processes. These are some of the findings of a scientific opinion published by EFSA on public health risks related to mechanically separated meat. EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards also developed a model to help identify mechanically separated meat and differentiate it from other types of meat.

Mechanically separated meat is derived from the meat left on animal carcasses once the main cuts have been removed. This meat can be mechanically removed and used in other foods. There are two main types of mechanically separated meat: “high-pressure” mechanically separated meat, which is paste-like and can be used in products such as hotdogs; and “low-pressure” mechanically separated meat, similar in appearance to minced meat.

EFSA’s opinion concludes that possible microbiological risks associated with mechanically separated meat are similar to those related to non-mechanically separated meat.  Microbiological and chemical risks arise from the contamination of raw materials and from poor hygiene practices during meat processing. However, high pressure production processes increase the risk of microbial growth. In fact these processes result in greater muscle fibre degradation and an associated release of nutrients which provide a favourable substrate for bacterial growth. In relation to chemical hazards, experts from EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the food chain advise that no specific chemical concerns are expected provided that Maximum Residue Levels are respected.

The Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) considered different parameters to distinguish mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat. The BIOHAZ Panel found that, based on currently available data, calcium (released from bone during processing) is the most appropriate chemical parameter. EFSA’s scientific experts developed a model which uses calcium levels to support the identification of mechanically separated meat products.

This model will assist policy makers as well as food operators and inspectors in differentiating mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat.

In order to improve the differentiation between mechanically separated meat obtained through low pressure techniques and hand deboned meat, EFSA recommends the use of specifically designed studies to collect data on potential indicators.

Notes to editors
  • When high-pressure methods are used, the carcass or the meat parts are pressed through a machine-like sieve. When low-pressure methods are used, the meat is mechanically scraped from the carcass.
  • Currently in the EU, mechanically separated meat can be produced from poultry and pork but not from bovines, sheep and goats. Mechanically separated meat must be clearly labelled as such and does not count as part of the stated meat content of the product. High pressure mechanically separated meat must be immediately frozen and can only be used in cooked products. See Regulation (EC) No. 853/2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin.
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